Anyone who has worked in props on the East Coast recognizes the name “Anything But Costumes.” Tucked away on a small farm in New Jersey halfway between Philadelphia and New Jersey, this prop rental company serviced theaters, films, and television shows in both cities, and everywhere in between. Props people on Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway relied on their low prices and wide selection to keep their shows in budget, and knew they could fill out their set dressing with just a single trip.
Word spread this week that they are closing at the end of the summer. The pandemic has already made it difficult to imagine a time when theater will return and all of us will get back to the work we love, but it is now even harder to imagine propping these shows without such a reliable and necessary resource available to us.
The owners, Linda and Lowell, sent out the following statement with their plans:
After 25 years Anything But Costumes will be closing this summer. We have lost our lease and COVID-19 has just made business extremely difficult. We had hoped another party would take over and continue our mission of supplying schools and theaters with less expensive props.
We will be selling all the props and also lots of other stuff, like shelving, ladders, hand trucks, supplies, craft items, fabric, display cases, lumber, etc. If you are interested in buying items you can make an appointment to come here and look or you can buy from our online catalogue. The purchase price would be twice the rental price shown in the catalogue. At some point we will probably have an auction later in the summer.
The following is an official announcement from the Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M), of which I am a member:
S*P*A*M has decided to temporarily suspend the awarding of the Jenn Trieloff and Edie Whitsett Memorial Grants. Many producing organizations operating on a Summer schedule have suspended operations due to the uncertainty created by the global pandemic and its economic fallout. Theatres that normally begin producing in the late summer and early fall are in a state of flux and unsure of when – or even if – they will be undertaking their 2020-21 seasons. It is for these reasons that the Society of Properties Artisan Managers has reluctantly reached the decision to postpone the deadline for and presentation of the Jen Trieloff and Edie Whitsett Memorial Grants. The new deadline and presentation date will be announced as soon as possible. All current applications will remain active and we encourage the submission of new applications. Because of the uncertainty surrounding employment opportunities, we will be adding an additional requirement to the application process. In addition to providing a cover letter, résumé and link to a portfolio, before the grant is awarded we will ask for confirmation of the internship or apprenticeship from the applicant’s employer. We believe that it is not only possible but vitally necessary for theatre professionals at all levels to remain strong and hopeful and to support one another as we navigate these uncertain territories. S*P*A*M regrets any confusion or inconvenience caused by this change in plans. Stay safe, be kind to one another and Prop On.
The following comes from an 1899 guide to succeeding as an actor. It is interesting how it describes the difference between what items are owned by the theater and what was traditionally supplied by the actor:
‘Properties’ —the general term for stage furniture and all other accessories apart from scenery—is of course short for ‘the property of the theatre’; just as an actor’s wardrobe for the stage is expressed in the plural, but laconically ‘props.’ ‘Hand props,’ or properties, consist of such articles as a newspaper, letter, cigarette, pistol, etc.; these, with the more cumbrous furniture, armour, weapons, etc., are placed under the charge of the ‘property man.’
The dressing of a modern play forms no small item in an actor’s expenditure, for he is expected to find everything, from his wigs down to his shoes. Costume plays are now, in the West-End and in the best touring companies, completely ‘dressed’ by the management; but in all inferior organizations the time-honoured rule still holds good, viz., that actors must provide their own tights, shoes, boot-tops, wigs, crêpe hair, frills, ‘ballet shirts,’ gloves or gauntlets, hats, feathers, swords and sword-belts, and various other oddments too numerous to particularize. The originator of this rule was no less a personage than Sir Charles D’Avenant, since it formed one of the many ‘items’ in his articles of agreement with his company of players on the opening by royal license of the Salisbury Court Theatre in 1660. It was as follows: ‘The management shall not provide the actors with hats, feathers, gloves, ribbons, swords, belts, bands, shoes, and stockings.’ When the stock companies were universally in vogue, each theatre in town and country had its own wardrobe comprising ‘shirts,’ ‘shapes,’ ‘square-cuts,’ togas, gowns, and ‘tuck-ups’ ; nowadays everything is ordered new for a West-End production, and after the run of the piece stored away or sold off by auction to the highest bidder.
Wagner, Leopold. How to Get on the Stage and How to Succeed There. pp 87-88, Chatto and Windus, London. 1899.
It’s grant time again! Announcing the annual prop grants honoring Edie Whitsett and Jen Trieloff! Times are very uncertain right now, but most of us will be back to work by the summer or fall. If you have a props apprenticeship or internship lined up, then you should definitely apply for these grants.
The Jen Trieloff and Edie Whitsett Grants are annual $1000 awards given to individuals wishing to further their career in theatrical properties. These grants are to assist with expenses related to completing an internship, such as transportation, housing, or other necessities.
Jen Trieloff was Properties Director for American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin and Forward Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin and served as Prop Master and Prop Designer for Madison Rep and Madison Opera and Ballet among others. He was an accomplished craftsman and scene designer whose work was seen on stages inside and outside of Wisconsin.
Edie Whitsett was the longtime property shop manager and a frequent designer at Seattle Children’s Theatre. She also created sets for Village Theatre, Seattle Opera, ACT Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet and other arts entities. Whitsett’s honors included an Artist Trust fellowship, a commission for an art installation at the Seattle Public Library’s central branch and two Seattle Times Footlight Awards. To honor Edie’s commitment to children’s theatre, this goal of this grant is to award it to someone who is interested in working with children’s theater, but it is not limited to only that.
This grant is overseen and awarded by the Society of Properties Artisan Managers and is for $1000 towards internship expenses.
Individuals wishing to apply should submit the following:
Cover Letter including details on your internship (where and when), any additional compensation that might be receiving during that time and an estimate of anticipated expenses.
Digital portfolio of recent properties work (a PDF with portfolio images or a link to a website).
In a previous post, we learned that the first props master of the Metropolitan Opera was a man named A. J. Bradwell, and that he came from a family of props masters stretching back nearly two hundred years. Who were the Bradwells? I’ve been researching them for awhile and wanted to introduce you to the main ones I’ve found: four generations of props masters spanning a time from the 18th century all the way to the 20th century.
William Bradwell (?-1849)
William Bradwell was a theatrical decorator and machinist in London. He worked on many of the props, tricks, and effects at Covent Garden from 1806-1839. His work on the pantomimes were so well-known that his name was used to advertise shows as a sign of quality. He was once referred to as “the fairies’ couch maker.” He worked directly under such English stage greats as Dibdin the Younger, Macready, and E.L. Blanchard (in fact, Bradwell hired a young Blanchard as a props running crew at the beginning of his career).
He and his wife Elizabeth had a son named Edmund in 1799.
Edmund Bradwell (1799-1871)
Edmund was working at the Theatre Royal in Dublin until Robert Elliston took him back to London to build properties and machinery for the Surrey Theatre. He worked at a number of theaters, such as the Olympic, Lyceum, and Her Majesty’s Theatre, and quickly developed a reputation for innovative “transformations.”
Edmund and his wife Margaret had at least seven daughters, and two sons who continued in the business: Edmund William Bradwell, and Alfred John Bradwell.
Edmund William Bradwell (1828-1909)
Edmund William was born in Ireland immediately before his father returned to London. His work as a builder and decorator seems to have been more focused on the decoration of theatre interiors. A number of theatres that opened or were renovated around this time had some of the design and decoration executed by E. W. Bradwell.
EW and his wife Elizabeth had three daughters and one son. The son, William Edmund Valentine Bradwell, appears to have followed in the family business at least a bit.
William Edmund Valentine Bradwell (1858-1938)
William was born on Valentine’s Day. His occupation was listed as both a builder’s artist and a decorative artist in surviving paperwork. I don’t know much more about him than that.
Alfred John Bradwell (1845-after 1891)
Alfred was Edmund’s son and Edmund William’s brother. His career began as an assistant to his father on a number of pantomimes throughout London, learning to accomplish all sorts of mechanical transformations and properties. He built his own reputation as a pantomime properties artisan at Drury Lane after his father died. He emigrated to the United States and became the first properties master at the Metropolitan Opera when it opened in 1883. He also trained Edward Siedle, a properties master who would go on to become technical director at the Met, transforming it into a technical powerhouse in the early twentieth century.
He and his wife Annie had a number of children, with their son Herbert Augustus Bradwell continuing the business. He had another son, Ernest Athol Bradwell, who appears to have worked as both an actor and a stage carpenter over the years.
Herbert Augustus Bradwell (1873-1911)
Herbert was born in London, but mostly grew up in New York City after his father joined the Met Opera. He became quite the well-known creator of electrical and mechanical effects on stage. In the early twentieth century, Coney Island was the home of massive live spectacles, such as volcanic eruptions and train crashes. Herbert was coproducer and an effects creator for one of the most successful ones known as “The Jonestown Flood,” in which an entire town was flooded during every performance. When this closed, he produced his own show in the same building known as “The Deluge,” a recreation of the Noah’s Ark story. It was wildly successful, and he transferred the show to London. It failed there, and a second attempt at a disaster spectacle in Brussels ended up burning to the ground. Now broke, he brought his family back to New York, and ended up starving himself to keep his family fed. This led to a mental breakdown that put him in the hospital, where his heart eventually gave out. He died at the young age of 44, completely destitute.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies